Caring For Users

Programs are tools, and like all tools, they are made to be used.

A program with no users is worse than pointless. It cannot do anyone good, as no one uses it, but it incurs the manifold costs of creation.

Note, however, that 'users' may be hard to detect. Many programs are written as a learning exercise for the programmer. In those cases, the author is a user, though it may be never be used after writing it.

Having users is necessary but not sufficient to label a program successful. A program is only good if it makes the users' lives better.

As a maker of programs, then, the programmer's goal should be to care for each program's users.

How can you do that?

Listen to them. Make it easy for them to give feedback, both through tooling and personal interactions. When they have something to say, let them say it, without interrupting. When they ask for a feature, don't assume you know what they want or need - let them explain it to you. Chew on what they tell you, understand their problems deeply, then outline your understanding for them, to see if you've followed correctly.

Talk to them. Beg them (politely) for bug reports, feedback, complaints, and feature requests, and always be grateful for responses. Even a report like "it doesnt work" represents some degree of effort to improve the software. Encourage questions, and take the time to answer them well.

Watch them work. See how they do their tasks without the tools you create, and with them. Let them try your work-in-progress and see how they react to it. Analyze their workflows and usage patterns, and propose interface changes and new features based on that, rather than on hypothetical difficulties. When it makes their lives better, automate processes entirely, but give them simple, robust ways to bypass and override the automation, because all systems fail.

Protect them. If someone who does not use the software requests a feature, discuss it with actual users. Only add it if it helps them. If users request a feature that seems short-sighted or unwise, work with them to fully understand the problem underlying their request, and design a better solution. If the users still prefer their original solution, debate, design, and discuss with them until you reach a shared understanding of what to do.

By definition, only a programmer can create software.

Thus, users only suffer when a programmer allows it.

Fight for them.

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